Katharine Lee Bates, (August 12, 1859 – March 28, 1929), is remembered as the author of the words to the anthem "America the Beautiful".
Bates was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts. The daughter of a Congregational pastor, she graduated from Wellesley College in 1880 and for many years was a professor of English literature at Wellesley. She lived there with Katharine Coman, who herself was a history and political economy teacher and founder of the Wellesley College Economics department. The pair lived together for twenty-five years until Coman's death in 1915.
It is widely believed that the pair were lovers. Those who sustain this theory usually cite the prose in which the pair's correspondence was couched. While the language of their letters is at times suggestive, and even extremely so, there is no conclusive proof of the nature of their relationship. It must also be noted that social awareness of homosexuality was much less than it is today, and so self-consciousness of homosexual inclinations was often accordingly opaque. It was quite common for unmarried women to live together and establish domestic routines. These arrangements were sometimes called "Boston marriages" or "Wellesley marriages". These terms were derisive, though they did not indicate a presumption, let alone knowledge of the sexual practices of those to whom the terms were applied.
The first draft of "America the Beautiful" was hastily jotted in a notebook during the summer of 1893, which Bates spent teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Later she remembered,
- "One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."
The words to her one famous poem first appeared in print in The Congregationalist, a weekly journal, for Independence Day, 1895. The poem reached a wider audience when her revised version was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript, November 19, 1904. Her final expanded version was written in 1913.
The hymn has been sung to other music, but the familiar tune that Ray Charles delivered is by Samuel A. Ward (1847–1903), written for his hymn "Materna" (1882).
Bates was a prolific author of many volumes of poetry, travel books and children's books. Her family home on Falmouth's Main Street is preserved by the Falmouth Historical Society.
Bates is credited with creating Mrs. Claus in the poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride from the collection; Sunshine and other Verses for Children, 1889.
Katharine Lee Bates died in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on March 26, 1929, aged 69. She was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1970
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